Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.
Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
Security: Whether you’re skeptical of people hacking baby monitors or deeply concerned about it (and there are stories!), the bottom line is that some monitors are at more risk than others. A Wired story from 2015 refers to security firm Rapid7’s findings that Wi-Fi–enabled monitors were particularly vulnerable. We figured people would prefer the not-hackable type, and we talked to a security expert about how to protect your privacy.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.
As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
Bargain hunters may prefer the iBaby M6T. Though it's a couple years old and records video in in 720p resolution, it's still a capable monitor with night vision, two-way audio and helpful pan-and-tilt capabilities. It's also available for nearly $100 less than the Arlo Baby. If the voice-powered Alexa assistant is a part of your family, consider the Project Nursery Smart Baby Monitor, which includes a smart speaker in its $229 bundle that lets you remote control the camera.
Internet speed is a challenge with wifi cameras and wifi baby monitors: people want cameras with high definition video (720p or 1080p), but most internet connections are nowhere near fast enough to stream that high-quality video in real time. So parents get really frustrated with their HD wifi baby monitors because they find the video choppy, laggy, and unreliable. Most modern wifi cameras allow you to lower the resolution of the video so you can still see your baby, but not in high def.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it's consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with thousands of positive customer reviews. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, but we could see this monitor being a good choice for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, or people who want a monitor only so they can hear their kid crying out from a distant bedroom.
The Nest Cam isn’t a dedicated baby monitor, but an all-around home protection device. Besides aiming the camera at the crib, you can also use it to keep an eye on the nanny, the dog or your empty home while you’re away. The video camera can be set up anywhere, and you can watch the live streaming from your smartphone. It also has two-way communication so you can soothe your little one to sleep, even if you’re offsite. If the device senses motion or sound, it’ll send a phone alert or an email to you. Missed what happened? From the app, you can view photos of any activity that took place over the last three hours. (There are Nest Aware subscriptions available that provide access to 5, 10 or 30 days of recordings, for $5, $10 or $30 a month, respectively). The picture quality is super sharp, too.